Heroes truck honours the dead, provides hope for the struggling
Manitoba's 1st Canadian Heroes tribute vehicle hits the road
A former Manitoba soldier has transformed his truck into a rolling memorial for two Canadian soldiers who were killed in action in Afghanistan.
He hopes it will also serve as a beacon of hope for people like him who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Scott Stroh's 2014 Ford F-150 is completely wrapped with photo decals, colours and logos.
The artwork was done through the Canadian Heroes Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that raises awareness and support for fallen soldiers, their families and those still struggling.
First one in Manitoba
Stroh's pickup is the 15th vehicle in the Canadian Heroes fleet and the first in Manitoba.
Stroh had a hard time containing his excitement as he watched his truck's transformation last week in the garage at Signmeister, the Winnipeg company that did the work.
"When I walked in today, I don't think you could combine enough Christmases together to get that nostalgic feeling of the surprise when I saw this," he said, smiling. "It is beyond words. I'm shaking trying to hold back a lot of emotion. It is beyond beautiful."
Arnal was 25 and on his second tour when he died during a nighttime foot patrol near Kandahar City, Afghanistan, in 2008.
The truck also holds a picture of Petty Officer 2nd Class Craig Blake. The married father of two, who served with the Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic, based in Nova Scotia, was 37 when he was killed by an improvised explosive device in 2010.
Stroh, a retired navy master seaman, said it was natural for him to choose Blake, who was the navy's only fatality in Afghanistan.
Stroh first got the idea for his memorial vehicle when he bumped into Robin McCormack of Edmonton in a Winnipeg restaurant a couple of years ago. Robin was wearing a Canadian Heroes jacket, and Scott wanted to know more.
"He told me about his son who didn't make it home and I felt very moved by his story," Stroh said.
Since then, he has spoken with others who own vehicles, including Brent Schriner, a Canadian Heroes Foundation director still serving in the military in Moose Jaw, Sask.
Schriner, a medic, drives an SUV that memorializes the eight medics who died in Afghanistan. It illustrates the closeness of the military world.
"Four of the eight I knew personally," Schriner said. "It's humbling. The view from the public as they drive by, they honk the horn, give you the thumbs up, they'll wave. You stop at a gas station or a Tim Hortons for coffee — they'll just walk around the truck or just look at the truck. They'll thank you for your service. They'll ask you questions."
Stroh hopes his truck will also spark conversations about PTSD.
A beacon of hope
"You know, this is my vehicle but it is also a Canadian Heroes vehicle — it is a rolling memorial for these two men," he said.
"It is also a beacon of hope for people like myself who suffer with post-traumatic stress — hopefully an encouragement that there are people out there that want to talk to you and there's resources available as well."
He already knows what he'll say when he's approached.
"I'll tell them that I served overseas in Afghanistan, that this vehicle gives me a renewed purpose to get out into the community and help remember those who never made it home and help serve a purpose for those of us who are still here that need some help."
He is open about his condition.
"It's a real struggle for me. It really hinders a lot of things. You go through anxious moments and depressive moments. It hurts my ability to be real social, as well hinders my ability to handle certain amounts of stress. It makes life difficult," he said. It also affects his memory.
He looks for ways to engage in the community, and was featured earlier this year in a CBC story about one of his favourite volunteer activities: junior hockey.
Stroh lives just west of Winnipeg with his wife Stephanie and their 20-month-old son Spencer. Family is everything to him.
As soon as the wrapping on his truck was complete, he drove it to Glenlawn Memorial Gardens on Lagimodiere Boulevard, where James Arnal is buried.
It was an emotional moment for Hayward.
"This is your truck?" she asked in a voice choked with emotion.
"This is my truck," Stroh said gently. "So pleased to meet you."
The two shared a long embrace.
"Oh my god," said Hayward. "This is incredible. This is above and beyond. Sharing this with the people you are driving by ... is really special."
Their conversation was warm and comfortable, like they were two old friends.
Hayward stopped to touch the picture of her son, who she calls Jim.
Stroh explained part of his motivation.
"This is the least I can do. I was lucky enough to come home. It's a good reason for me to get off the couch, and be proactive, and shed light on these guys and help those who may be suffering today,"
"Purpose," Hayward said.
She described her son as a caring, articulate and energetic young man who loved to travel.
"What I've come to realize is that he lives on in a lot of different ways. You know, his buddies and comrades in arms were his biggest concern. That's why he went back on his second tour was because they didn't have very many people with any experience that had been there," she said.
"And he would call home, and he would talk about them all and stuff, and some of their challenges and things. He would be very proud to be a part of helping someone else like Scott, or someone that sees it. He's a part of something greater than himself again, " she said, her voice breaking.
"This life that he has now, he's still making a big difference. He's always in my heart — always will be — and now he's going to be in other people's. I love that."